“So, who are you going with?…”

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me the question “so who are you going with?” after telling them I’m hiking the Appalachian Trail next year, I’d be rich. Well, maybe not rich but I’d definitely have a good chunk of money that would help fund my trip.

I don’t know if I just look a lot younger than I am or if people genuinely believe that a girl in her early twenties needs another person with them to successfully complete the Appalachian Trail. Sure, a lot of women either hike it with their significant other, a friend, family member, or even a dog (and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that) but that’s not something that is required to complete the trail as a woman. Plenty of women have done it alone. I mean, look at Grandma Gatewood. She was the first woman to solo hike the AT, did it three times, and was in her 70’s by the third time! There’s the Bionic Woman who had a prosthetic leg and yet completed her thru, Chipmunk who holds the record for the youngest solo thru-hiker, Special K, who, if she completes the trail this year will break that record, and there’s Anish who broke the record for the fastest unsupported thru-hike of the AT. And those are only a few of the many badass solo female AT thru-hikers. (Honestly any woman that completes the AT is a badass in my book)

Most of the time when strangers ask who I’m hiking with I’ll reply with “no one” and the next question they usually ask me is if I’m scared. Honestly, I’m scared shitless. I’m scared of bears. I’m scared of snakes. And spiders. And moose. And getting lost while I’m trying to find a good spot to pee. But I’m not going to let my fear get the best of me. I know that when I’m finally out there it’ll be worth feeling a little scared at first. There’d be something wrong with me if I wasn’t even a little bit afraid.

Now, I will admit that I have asked my dad to hike with me through the 100 mile wilderness when I get there and he’s offered to drive along and meet me at some road crossings during the first couple weeks, but I won’t be hiking all day every day with him or spending every night in a hotel. I’ll be sleeping in the woods and carrying my pack the entire time. It’ll be comforting to know he’s just a short drive away at first and I can’t wait for the trail magic I’m sure he’ll be giving out to hikers, but he still has to finish his own hike that he started this year so he can’t stick around for too long.

So, after I tell whoever is asking me about the trail that yes, I am indeed a bit scared the next question I get is usually “Then why are you even doing it?” And that is a very good question with many answers.

  • I’m doing it because I’ve wanted to since I was a little kid.
  • Because once I decide to do something, I never back out no matter how long it takes to do it.
  • Because I’ve loved hiking my entire life.
  • Because I seek adventure.
  • Because I’m at a point in my life where I don’t know what I want as far as a career or where I’m going to live and 6 months in the woods seems like a great place to think about those things.
  • Because I suffer from generalized anxiety but for some reason as soon as I start walking through a forest my anxiety seems to disappear.
  • Because I’m a photographer and while researching the Appalachian Trail I’ve found maybe three photography based books on it and I’m determined to make my own to share my experiences with the world.
  • Because my father is my idol and his 1980 thru-hike is something he’s talked about my entire life.
  • Because I’m sick of working in retail where people get so mad about materialistic things that will probably break within 5 years anyway.
  • Because I want to meet interesting people.
  • Because I want to make lifelong friends.
  • Because of the people who think I can’t do it. (I’m incredibly stubborn).
  • Because I feel like if you can walk the 2189.2 miles of the AT then you can do whatever you set your heart on in life. I mean, you basically climbed Mt. Everest 16 times…
  • Because I know my family is supportive of me and will help encourage me on the hard days to keep going.
  • Because all my life people have made me feel weak for being a girl, being short, being shy and quiet, etc, and I want to feel strong.
  • Because life is short and should be lived, not imagined and planned.
  • Because I didn’t want to come home after my week long section hike last spring.
  • Because it feels like it will be one of the greatest experiences of my life.

I know that’s a lot of reasons and I’m sure there’s more that I can’t even think of right now, but when I try to think of a reason not to attempt a thru-hike of the AT, my mind comes up blank. There’s no reason not to.

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Comments 17

  • Terri : Sep 5th

    My daughter Mouse hiked Nobo last year at 21 by herself. She’s out there again going Sobo this year. You’ll do great. She has loved it.

    Reply
    • Kirsten : Sep 17th

      Thanks! I can’t wait!

      Reply
  • Linda Vance : Sep 5th

    I have been asked this question for the past 45 years, whether I am heading off for a hike, working in the backcountry, travelling abroad, or even taking road trips. Sometimes it’s coming from a harmless place of concern, and often from someone who can’t imagine doing anything alone her (or his) self, but often it carries a not-too-subtle tone of disapproval. And not just from men; there are certainly women who are invested in the stereotype of the woman who needs protection. But I like my space, and I like my solitude, and so I keep doing it. It does not mean I am never afraid, or never lonely, or that I never back down from some particularly gnarly challenge because the consequences of an injury are too great when you are far from help and all alone with no one likely to find you (not the case on the AT). It does mean– and I think you nail this in your answers listed above– that I have a confidence that extends into my whole life, a view of myself as a strong and competent woman who can rely on her own wits to solve problems. You will find yourself with that kind of confidence when you done. You will also know yourself as someone who finishes, someone who pushes through adversity, someone who can look towards a goal rather than the obstacles in the way. And because you do it alone, you will never be able to escape that confidence, or attribute your success to anyone but yourself. Go for it, with gusto.

    Reply
    • Kirsten : Sep 17th

      Thank you for your kind words! I can’t wait to prove everyone who’s ever doubted me wrong! I’m very stubborn when people tell me I can’t do something so I just use their negativity as motivation. It’s awesome to see there are so many other strong independent women out there who aren’t afraid to hike alone. Or do anything alone in general. Hope to run into you on the trail next year!

      Reply
  • Bear Finder : Sep 5th

    It’s so tiresome getting the “You’re doing this alone?”/”Aren’t you scared?” spiel. I don’t know how many times I had to listen it during my thru-hike (I was 23-24!). Never forget that you rock!

    Reply
    • Kirsten : Sep 17th

      It is very tiresome! But glad to know I’m not the only one who’s had to deal with it! lol. And thanks!

      Reply
  • Steffy : Sep 5th

    Good luck! Remember…Girl Power!!! You’re an inspiration!

    Reply
    • Kirsten : Sep 17th

      Thanks! 🙂

      Reply
  • Ashley McNeill : Sep 5th

    Hey girl! I dig it! I’m hiking it in March alone as well, and I get all the same questions. I usually like to reply by reminding family that if I was a son nobody would be that concerned. So let’s show em we’re just as tough 😉

    Reply
    • Kirsten : Sep 17th

      Awesome! Maybe we’ll run into each other at some point! And it’s really funny because my brother is thru-hiking right now (He’s in NH) and my family still worries for me even though they’ve seen that my brother is 100% okay after completing 12 states. xD

      Reply
  • Dana : Sep 5th

    Thanks for sharing!! Look forward to hearing about your adventure! Hoping it’s me one day!

    Reply
    • Kirsten : Sep 17th

      Thanks! Don’t let life get in the way! Originally I was going to wait until I went to grad school, became a professor, and went on sabbatical but then I met a family of 7 at Trail Days 2015 who was thru-hiking and the dad convinced me not to plan my whole life away and to just go for it. It was on the ride home when I decided to finish up college, work my ass off to save enough money and hike it in 2017. You just gotta go for it because the best time to hike the trail is today! (Or the first chance you get whenever you’re able to save enough money haha)

      Reply
  • Sharon Higgins : Sep 5th

    The only time my mother texts me is when she knows I’m section hiking-alone, It annoys me more than I can say. As a 50 year old woman, hiking a trail in the middle of no where is less worrisome than when I was a girl partying in the woods and looking for a ride home on a Saturday night at 16. Be confident in your abilities and judgement. I feel safer on a trail than on any city street. enjoy your hike, Walk with purpose and determination and fear nothing. You got this.

    Reply
    • Kirsten : Sep 17th

      Thank you so much! Honestly, I’ve felt safer hiking alone then I ever did walking around my college campus at night. Sometimes humans are way scarier than snakes or bears!

      Reply
  • dandyann : Sep 5th

    hi kirsten. i am a 41 year old woman that will start most likely solo in march too. i can’t wait! i hope we meet on the path. <3

    Reply
    • Kirsten : Sep 17th

      Awesome! Can’t wait! 🙂

      Reply
  • Doctari : Jul 3rd

    I too get that question A LOT! My “problem” is somewhat different, I’m male, but over 60, so “old & therefore frail”. I just count it to ignorance, although often enough is just stupidity. Regardless of gender, age or whatever, there will always be detractors, they may not even be aware of what they do. AND, I’ve been sectioning the AT for over 20 years, seems the same people ask every year! EVERY YEAR!!! Sigh!
    Then I hit the trail & all is well! ?

    Reply

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